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Q&A: Here’s how the ‘Matter’ protocol will soon reduce vulnerabilities in smart home devices

By Byron V. Acohido

After years of competitive jockeying, the leading tech giants have agreed to embrace a brand new open-source standard – called Matter – that will allow consumers to mix and match smart home devices and platforms.

Related: The crucial role of ‘Digital Trust’

After numerous delays and course changes, the Matter protocol, is set to roll out this fall, in time for the 2022 holiday shopping season. To start, seven types of smart home devices will be capable of adopting the Matter protocol, and thus get affixed with a Matter logo.

Matter is intended to foster interoperability of smart home devices – so a homeowner can stick with just one voice assistance platform and have the freedom to choose from a wide selection of smart devices sporting the Matter logo.

What this boils down to is that a consumer living in a smart home filled with Matter devices would no longer be forced to use Amazon’s Alexa to control some devices, while having to switch to Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant or Samsung’s SmartThings to operate other devices. No surprise: Amazon, Google, Apple and Samsung are the biggest names on a list of 250 companies supporting the roll out of Matter.

The qualifying types of smart home devices, to start, include light bulbs and switches; smart plugs; smart locks; smart window coverings; garage door openers; thermostats; and HVAC controllers. If all goes smoothly, surveillance cams, smart doorbells and robot vacuums would soon follow.

Q&A: Here’s why VPNs are likely to remain a valuable DIY security tool for consumers, SMBs

By Byron V. Acohido

It is astounding that billions of online accounts have been breached over the past 18 years and that US consumer accounts are by far the most compromised.

Related: VPNs vs ZTNA

Now comes hard metrics quantifying the scope of this phenomenon. It’s in findings of a deep dive data analytics study led by Surfshark, a supplier of VPN services aimed at the consumer and SMB markets.

Surfshark partnered with a number of independent cybersecurity researchers to quantify the scope and pattern of data breaches over the past couple of decades. For this study, a data breach was defined as an intruder copying or leaking user data such as names, surnames, email addresses, passwords, etc. Much of the hard evidence came from correlating breached databases sitting in the open Internet.

Data scientists sorted through 27,000 leaked databases and created 5 billion combinations of data. Researchers could then sort those combinations based on specific data points, such as countries, and perform a statistical analysis of their findings.

The data analytics show:

•A total 2.3 billion U.S. accounts have been breached so far. The scale is so massive that it makes up 15 percent of all breached users globally since 2004 (the year data breaches became widespread)

•More than two thirds of American accounts are leaked with the password, putting breached users in danger of account takeover.

Q&A: The lesser role VPNs now play for enterprises, SMBs — in a post-pandemic world

By Byron V. Acohido

During the first two decades of this century, virtual private networks —VPNs—served as a cornerstone of network security.

Related: Deploying human sensors

VPNs encrypt data streams and protect endpoints from unauthorized access, essentially by requiring all network communications to flow over a secured pipe.

This worked extremely well for users accessing network resources remotely via their company-issued laptops and immobile home computers. However, VPN pipes have become less efficient with the rising use of personally-owed mobile devices increasing reliance on cloud-centric IT resources.

The sudden spike in work-from-home scenarios due to Coivd 19 quarantining accelerated this trend. I had the chance to ask Chris Clements, vice president of solutions architecture at Cerberus Sentinel,

Q&A: Surfshark boosts ‘DIY security’ with its rollout of VPN-supplied antivirus protection

By Byron V. Acohido

Surfshark wants to help individual citizens take very direct control of their online privacy and security.

Thus, Surfshark has just become the first VPN provider to launch an antivirus solution as part of its all-in-one security bundle Surfshark One.

Related: Turning humans into malware detectors

This development is part and parcel of rising the trend of VPN providers hustling to deliver innovative “DIY security” services into the hands of individual consumers.

It’s notable that this is happening at a time when Microsoft, Apple and Google are going the opposite direction – by natively embedding more consumer-grade security services into their popular operating systems, like Windows, Mac, IoS and Android. And let’s not forget the longstanding, multi-billion market of antivirus software subscriptions directed at consumers.

The consumer anti-virus vendors have been generating massive subscription revenue for two decades; though this market is mature and in a consolidation phase, it is not going to disappear anytime soon, as suggested by  NortonLifeLock’s $8 billion buyout of Avast.

Last year I agreed to serve a one-year term on Surfshark’s advisory board. I accepted because I appreciated Surfshark’s emphasis on privacy and security — and saw it as a way to learn more about the consumer cybersecurity market.

Author Q&A: In modern cyberwarfare ‘information security’ is one in the same with ‘national security’

By Byron V. Acohido

What exactly constitutes cyberwarfare?

The answer is not easy to pin down. On one hand, one could argue that cyber criminals are waging an increasingly debilitating economic war on consumers and businesses in the form of account hijacking, fraud, and extortion. Meanwhile, nation-states — the superpowers and second-tier nations alike — are hotly pursuing strategic advantage by stealing intellectual property, hacking into industrial controls, and dispersing political propaganda at an unheard-of scale.

Related: Experts react to Biden’s cybersecurity executive order

Now comes a book by John Arquilla, titled Bitskrieg: The New Challenge of Cyberwarfare, that lays out who’s doing what, and why, in terms of malicious use of digital resources connected over the Internet. Arquilla is a distinguished professor of defense analysis at the United States Naval Postgraduate School. He coined the term ‘cyberwar,’ along with David Ronfeldt, over 20 years ago and is a leading expert on the threats posed by cyber technologies to national security.

Bitskrieg gives substance to, and connects the dots between, a couple of assertions that have become axiomatic:

•Military might no longer has primacy. It used to be the biggest, loudest weapons prevailed and prosperous nations waged military campaigns to achieve physically measurable gains. Today, tactical cyber strikes can come from a variety of operatives – and they may have mixed motives, only one of which happens to be helping a nation-state achieve a geo-political objective.

•Information is weaponizable. This is truer today than ever before. Arquilla references nuanced milestones from World War II to make this point – and get you thinking. For instance, he points out how John Steinbeck used a work of fiction to help stir the resistance movement across Europe.

Steinbeck’s imaginative novel, The Moon is Down, evocatively portrayed how ordinary Norwegians took extraordinary measures to disrupt Nazi occupation. This reference got me thinking about how Donald Trump used social media to stir the Jan. 6 insurrection in … more

FIRESIDE CHAT: All-powerful developers begin steering to the promise land of automated security

By Byron V. Acohido

Software developers have become the masters of the digital universe.

Related: GraphQL APIs pose new risks

Companies in the throes of digital transformation are in hot pursuit of agile software and this has elevated developers to the top of the food chain in computing.

There is an argument to be made that agility-minded developers, in fact, are in a terrific position to champion the rearchitecting of Enterprise security that’s sure to play out over the next few years — much more so than methodical, status-quo-minded security engineers.

With Black Hat USA 2021 reconvening in Las Vegas this week, I had a deep discussion about this with Himanshu Dwivedi, founder and chief executive officer, and Doug Dooley, chief operating officer, of Data Theorem, a Palo Alto, CA-based supplier of a SaaS security platform to help companies secure their APIs and modern applications.

For a full drill down on this evocative conversation discussion please view the accompanying video. Here are the highlights, edited for clarity and length:

LW:  Bad actors today are seeking out APIs that they can manipulate, and then they follow the data flow to a weakly protected asset. Can you frame how we got here?

Dwivedi: So 20 years ago, as a hacker, I’d go see where a company registered its IP. I’d do an ARIN Whois look-up. I’d profile their network and build an attack tree. Fast forward 20 years and everything is in the cloud. Everything is in Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure and I can’t tell where anything is hosted based solely on IP registration.

So as a hacker today, I’m no longer looking for a cross-site scripting issue of some website since I can only attack one person at a time with that. I’m looking at the client, which could be an IoT device, or a mobile app or a single page web app (SPA) or it could be an … more

Q&A: ‘Credential stuffers’ leverage enduring flaws to prey on video game industry

By Byron V Acohido

The video game industry saw massive growth in 2020; nothing like a global pandemic to drive  people to spend more time than ever gaming.

Related: Credential stuffers exploit Covid 19 pandemic

Now comes a report from Akamai detailing the extent to which cyber criminals preyed on this development. The video game industry withstood nearly 11 billion credential stuffing attacks in 2020, a 224 percent spike over 2019. The attacks were steady and large, taking place at a rate of millions per day, with two days seeing spikes of more than 100 million.

This metric shows how bad actors redoubled their efforts to rip off consumers fixated on spending  real money on character enhancements and additional levels. The big takeaway, to me, is how they accomplished  this – by refining and advancing credential stuffing.

Credential stuffing is a type of advanced brute force hacking that leverages software automation to insert stolen usernames and passwords into web page forms, at scale, until the attacker gains access to a targeted account.

We know from a Microsoft report how hacking groups backed by Russia, China and Iran have aimed such attacks against hundreds of organizations involved in both the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates. And credential stuffing was the methodology used by a Nigerian crime ring